Wyden scolds ambassador in China mural dispute

2012-09-13T11:42:00Z 2012-09-16T16:01:37Z Wyden scolds ambassador in China mural disputeBy Bennett Hall, Corvallis Gazette-Times Corvallis Gazette Times
September 13, 2012 11:42 am  • 

Oregon’s senior senator sends stern letter to Zhang Yesui

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden has taken China’s ambassador to task over Chinese efforts to get a politically charged mural removed from a building in downtown Corvallis.

In the strongest response yet from a U.S. official, Oregon’s senior senator fired off a sternly worded letter on Thursday chastising Ambassador Zhang Yesui for the actions of two Chinese diplomats. The consular officers pressured the mayor of Corvallis to force a building owner to take down the painting, which advocates independence for Taiwan and Tibet.

“I am writing to express my deep displeasure and concern with these actions,” Wyden wrote in his letter to Zhang, the highest-ranking Chinese official in the United States.

He called the Chinese tactics “a grave affront” and went on to lecture Zhang on the First Amendment’s guarantee of free expression, as well as freedom of religion and the press and the right of peaceful assembly.

“While these rights may not be respected in China, they are values that all Americans hold dear,” Wyden noted. “Any attempt by your government to suppress these rights is unacceptable and must not be repeated.”

The diplomatic spat began Aug. 8 with a letter to Corvallis Mayor Julie Manning from the Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco, complaining about the mural commissioned by Taiwanese-American businessman David Lin and asking for her help in having it taken down. The letter implied that allowing the painting to remain might harm trade relations between China and Oregon, while removing it might have economic benefits for Corvallis.

Manning wrote back that the city had no power to regulate artistic expression and that the U.S. Constitution protected political statements. She repeated those assertions in person on Sept. 4, when Vice Consul Zhang Hao and Deputy Consul General Song Ruan traveled to Corvallis for a face-to-face meeting with Manning and City Manager Jim Patterson.

The flap erupted into an international incident after the Gazette-Times reported on the exchange last week. The story quickly made the rounds of the Internet and drew widespread attention from the world media.

On Wednesday, members of Oregon’s congressional delegation stepped into the fight. Rep. Peter DeFazio, whose district includes Corvallis, blasted China in a speech on the House floor, and Sen. Jeff Merkley issued a short statement applauding Manning and Lin for sticking to their guns.

While China asserts sovereignty over both regions, Taiwan has its own democratically elected leadership and Tibet maintains a government-in-exile in India.

The mural on Lin’s building, painted by Taiwanese artist Chao Tsung-song, depicts Taiwan as a bastion of freedom and includes images of violent repression in Tibet, with riot police beating demonstrators and Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule.

According to Tibetan activists, some 50 monks have immolated themselves this year in escalating independence protests.

Although Lin said he worries about possible retaliation, he insists he will not take the mural down and says he has received an outpouring of encouragement from well-wishers.

“The support is unbelievable right now,” he told the Gazette-Times. “People come to my door and hug me.”

Contact reporter Bennett Hall at bennett.hall@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9529.

Copyright 2016 Corvallis Gazette Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(13) Comments

  1. Skye
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    Skye - September 20, 2012 6:05 pm
    I read in another article that he was planning on opening a restaurant.
  2. Skye
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    Skye - September 20, 2012 6:02 pm
    I think you're confusing the rights of the indivudual with the rights of foreign government. Our constitution guarentees the right to freedom of speech to the individual. Foreign governments (including their representives) don't have such rights, especially when trying to interfere with the rights of a US citizen inside our own borders. And they knew it too, which is why they decided to contact the town's mayor with "a proposition she couldn't refuse" instead of going to someone with more authority.
  3. john c
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    john c - September 16, 2012 8:34 pm
    Thank you for speaking for us, Sen. Ron Wyden. As a Taiwanese American, I am proud to be an American because of our great Constitution and great people like you. I sincerely hope Chinese Government will one day let the people of Tibet free to choose and decide their own future. As for Taiwan, it is a free and democratic country. America should recognize it as an alley.
  4. JunkYouStart
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    JunkYouStart - September 14, 2012 5:30 pm
    So what is the business he is opening?
    Is it a secret?
    Just curious.
  5. Harry Mallory
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    Harry Mallory - September 14, 2012 11:44 am
    "Harry, forget the name calling. You like to slot people under titles"

    No I dont you godless democrat.
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    OLDMANTALKS - September 14, 2012 11:27 am
    I know we have good reason to say that. And I believed the Chinese govermant has NO rights or any position involes on OUR U.S. territory any Arts or whatsoever which done on our FREELAND. Besides, I believed the Chinese they have to do and needed more and Better improvment on their own territory not on others. The Chinese never larned how to repect people who lives in other country, seems to me that they just born last year.....
    Mayor Julie Manning : I saluted you and will sustain on this freedom subject for the people of U.S.A. Thank you very much.
  7. TheRealJules
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    TheRealJules - September 14, 2012 10:26 am
    Merano, what other stance could Manning take on this? Could she agree to do anything about the mural? Of course not.

    As for the "strong-arm". Don't the Chinese have every right to decide who they will and will not do business with? Don't they have the right to decide what they will use to make their decisions? If they don't, then it is hard to imagine that anyone could have the right to boycott Walmart when it comes to town. After all, Walmart is doing business legally, so boycotting them for any reason must be illegal. Hmmm?

    The hard part about having rights is letting other people you don't like have them too.

    By the way, the Chinese have just as much right as I do to tell someone to take a mural down. Take the mural down. There, I told him. Tell me again I don't have the right to say tat.

  8. curious one
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    curious one - September 13, 2012 10:18 pm
    The Chinese Communist Government has the right to contact our mayor, and complain, but not the veiled threat. But, at least it has reminded all of us of what's still going on in Tibet.

    Harry, forget the name calling. You like to slot people under titles, and that never works. Also, it tells more about you, than the ones you try to call something.
  9. Harry Mallory
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    Harry Mallory - September 13, 2012 4:33 pm
    Sorry for my opening question Jules, but you came off sounding like a "progressive".
  10. Harry Mallory
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    Harry Mallory - September 13, 2012 4:01 pm
    Jules, why arent you able to grab a clue? Does the Chinese government have the right to express displeasure of an American citizen's artwork? Yes. Do they have the right to tell an American citizen to take it down? No. Thats is what Wyden is telling the Chinese (as had Mayor Manning), although it would have been nice if Wyden actually lived in the state so he wouldnt be forced to respond days later when the story broke nationally. Maybe Mr Wyden should actually live in the state he represents instead of NY city.
  11. Merano
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    Merano - September 13, 2012 3:52 pm
    I would have hoped that American citizens would be able to tell the difference between free speech and the strong-arm tactics of a major world bully (China). Personally, I applaud Julie, Pete and Ron for taking a principled stance on this. The irony, of course, is that if the Chinese hadn't made such a big stink about it in the first place, almost no one would know anything at all about this mural's existence.
  12. TheRealJules
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    TheRealJules - September 13, 2012 2:37 pm
    Wyden is remarkable. He lectures the Chinese about the value of the right of free speech, essentially telling them that they have no right to free speech on this matter. Free speech is for only those people we like, right Ron?

    The Chinese have every right to express displeasure over those murals. They have every right to express that to the local government. (We also have the right in the US to petition the government for redress of grievances.)
  13. JOMO
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    JOMO - September 13, 2012 12:28 pm
    The hell with Wyden.I haven't heard anything for him in this area of the state for 10 years.Go ahead and demagogue the heck out it but De Fazio has it handled.
    Wyden: Go back and be the butt boy for the insurance and banking interests where you are most comfortable..
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